Republique

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Republique
624 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(310) 362-6115
republiquela.com

A group of us went to the new hotness that is Republique during opening week late last month. While it’s not the fine-dining haven that most were hoping for with regards to seeing what Chef Walter Manzke can really do, it certainly does bring back pleasant memories (for most – I’ve never had the pleasure of dining at a Manzke restaurant before my dinner at Republique) of chef’s days at Church & State. Our foursome sat at the chef’s counter, which provided an excellent view of the open kitchen, but was a bit too warm for my liking, as it was directly facing the wood-burning oven. Still, a great setting for a promising meal.

The food here is just bistro fare, but there’s plenty to like on the menu. It appears that the menu has been changing on an almost-daily basis, but the highlights of our meal include: the cote de porc, the charcuterie, and the beef tartare. Definitely order those if you see them (I’m sure the charcuterie will be). Everything we ordered was at least solid, but a couple of dishes were on the saltier side (I personally have a high-sodium tolerance though, so this is more of a warning for others). Desserts were simple, but solidly executed.

I didn’t really want to go into detail because it was opening week, but let’s just say that Republique is very promising. I’m looking forward to seeing what the restaurant can do once it settles down and takes off from a creative perspective (also, there’s supposed to be a more formal, tasting-menu aspect of the restaurant forthcoming). Really can’t go wrong with the meat dishes here – the house-made charcuterie is already one of the better versions in the city, and that cote de porc was downright delicious. Will definitely be back for a more extensive experience in the future.

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Grass-Fed Beef Tartare ($18) – tarragon aioli, pickled red onion, potato chips

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Warm Baguette (*on request*) – butter

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Eggs on Toast ($16) – Santa Barbara uni, soft-scrambled eggs

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Crispy Pork Rinds ($12) – chili-vinegar dip

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Charcuterie Board ($24)

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Cook Ranch Pig’s Head ($12) – lentils, bacon, frisee, farm egg

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Red Wine Braised Short Rib ($32) – potato gnocchi, red swiss chard

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Cote de Porc ($58) – Berkshire pork chop, belly & sausage, salsify, fuji apple, spatzle, peppercorn sauce

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Sage Panna Cotta ($10) – butternut squash, pumpkin seeds

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Bomboloni ($12) – hazelnut ice cream, chocolate sauce

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Caramel Pot de Creme ($9) – roasted almonds

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Passion Fruit Tart ($?) – mascarpone sabayon

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
French Mid-Wilshire $$$ N/A

Republique on Urbanspoon

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Trois Mec

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Trois Mec
716 N Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
www.troismec.com

By now, just about every restaurant enthusiast in town has heard of Trois Mec, the new restaurant from Ludo Lefebvre of LudoBites fame, and Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal and Son of a Gun (hence the name “Trois Mec,” which roughly translates to “three guys” – albeit incorrectly spelled, but intentional). However, of those enthusiasts, only a few have been fortunate enough to score reservations via the ticketing system on the restaurant’s website, which releases openings every other Friday at 8am. The restaurant, which opened earlier this year in April, is a small space that seats fewer than 30 diners, so getting in isn’t necessarily easier than getting in than to the pop-ups that were notorious for crashing OpenTable.

For the past few years, Chef Ludo has kept busy with his series of LudoBites pop-ups, held about a couple of times a year at various restaurants around town, each iteration lasting around a month or two. It might seem strange for a chef of his caliber and background (he is probably the most classically-trained AND experienced chef currently in LA) to sustain this long-term, but during these last few years, Chef Ludo seemed happy and content as the equivalent of a swinger, going around kitchen to kitchen and holding the pop-ups without the worries of managing overhead costs, rent, and other everyday concerns that go with owning a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

All of that changed last year, however, when news broke of the trio of chefs taking over the former space of Raffallo’s Pizza (where I actually ate a bunch of times as a kid who grew up in the neighborhood), where the signage still remains today – that, along with the translucent windows that mask the restaurant’s interior from the outside, gives the diners a sense of secrecy and exclusivity that was prevalent during the LudoBites days. And Trois Mec is indeed the spiritual successor to the pop-ups in more ways than one: the menu, the ingredients, the techniques, and just the restaurant itself, are all evident as the vision of Chef Ludo. But the restaurant is also the girl that caused the chef to finally settle down and start a family.

I woke up Friday morning three weeks ago, roughly 15 minutes before the bi-weekly 8am ticket sales. I did some email purging and Twitter browsing, the latter where I saw an announcement of solo seats being available – an ideal situation. Up until then, I had only seen availability for parties of two or four, and since you’re buying the tickets upfront (therefore basically pre-paying for the dinner), I didn’t want to potentially have to scramble to find accompanying diners who might bail on me last-minute. So I didn’t hesitate here, immediately buying the ticket for one, and got ready for work, with a big grin on my face.

Fast-forward to July 31, and I was as nervous and anxious as a person who was going on their first first date in years. However, the impending first impression I was about to make on my date couldn’t have been any worse. I left the office an hour before my reservation at 6:30pm, thinking I gave myself plenty of time to spare, as it was only from Century City to Melrose/Highland, and Google Maps estimated the drive at 35 minutes with traffic. Those liars – I ended up arriving at the restaurant at 6:50, 80 minutes for a 6.5-mile drive. Embarrassed, I entered the restaurant with my head down, ready to be ridiculed by everyone, from the chefs in the open kitchen to my fellow diners who were already done with their first course.

Instead, I was warmly greeted by a wave of “bonsoir!” by all the chefs, a la the “irrashaimase!” one receives upon entering a authentic sushi restaurant. I was immediately guided to my seat at the counter (great view of the chefs at work, and all the kitchen gadgetry in action throughout the night), where a flurry of amuses followed. I decided to alleviate my stress from sitting in LA traffic for almost 1.5 hours with a wine pairing, which proved to be 6 generous pours for $49, and added the cheese course supplement, which was actually a truffle grilled cheese sandwich served with a “campfire” ice cream AND an extra wine pairing for $9. And this is when the magic began…

Snack #1

Snack #1: Elderflower & mugwort beer

Snack #2

Snack #2: Buckwheat popcorn w/ rice wine vinegar

Snack #3

Snack #3: Steamed & grilled brioche bun w/ chive butter

Snack #4

Snack #4: Sweet potato chip w/ creme fraiche & salmon roe

Snack #5

Snack #5: Tempura baby corn w/ mole verde

The five snacks (technically four snacks and an aperitif) arrived in rapid succession of one another. The aperitif, which was an elderberry and mugwort beer that belied its appearance, was a nice way to whet the appetite. The four snacks that followed were all finger food that were fun to eat, and importantly, delicious. That buckwheat popcorn, while somewhat difficult for me to eat without looking primitive, is essentially the most amazing version of salt and vinegar chips ever. The bun was a miniaturized version of the garlic rolls you’d find at somewhere like Wood Ranch, but elevated. The sweet potato chip was a deceivingly complex bite. And who knew baby corn could exist outside of salad bars and Chinese vegetable medleys?

Avocado, sushi rice, salt cod cream, lime, cilantro

Avocado, sushi rice, salt cod cream, lime, cilantro

Then came the first course, kind of a play on a California roll. You have your sushi rice (which was a bit more “wet” in consistency, but was true to the concept), you have your avocado, and in place of the crab meat, there is a brandade cream that had just the right amount of savory flavor. Add a hit of acidity with the lime juice, some garnishes in cilantro and jalapeno, and slight amount of crunch with the walnut, and this dish proved to embody the identity of what is to be expected at Trois Mec: the playful flare and flavor profile combinations that were evident in the dishes from LudoBites, but taken to another level with a sense of refinement and restraint that shows some growing up.

Raw beef, grilled yogurt, fermented black walnut, caramelized eggplant

Raw beef, grilled yogurt, fermented black walnut, caramelized eggplant

Next up was the second course, which one of the servers proudly proclaimed as his favorite – and it definitely was an awesome dish. I couldn’t exactly wrap my mind around what this dish was a play on, but it brought memories of eating kashkeh bademjan, the Persian eggplant dip. The shaved beef carpaccio was great, but it’s amazing how the eggplant and the grilled yogurt (which was actually smoked in their wood-fire grill – creative usage) were the stars. So here we have two courses so far, neither of which the protein was the star – just a piece of the puzzle, and the veggies not an accessory or a garnish to the dish. Both were very composed dishes that were the sum of its parts.

Potato pulp, brown butter, bonito, onion soubise, salers

Potato pulp, brown butter, bonito, onion soubise, salers

I thought that this third course, although the most simple in preparation in presentation, was by far the most bold and ambitious one. Why? It’s a potato dish! Where else would they have the confidence to serve this as a main course? It’s like the anti-mashed potatoes: the potatoes, maintaining a solid-enough consistency to have some bite, were squeezed out of a potato ricer onto a pool of brown butter and onion soubise, to which generous amounts of a very flavorful French salers cheese and bonito bits and flakes were applied on top – ended up more like a potatoes de terre gratinees. I knew that this was going to be a good dish, but for this dish to be as is and surpass the first two wonderful courses was an astonishing feat.

Smoked & grilled albacore, tomato dashi, wakame seaweed, shallots

Smoked & grilled albacore, tomato dashi, wakame seaweed, shallots

I kind of felt bad for this dish, because it had some tough acts to follow. As the unofficial, main protein course of the meal, it was the most straightforward and simple of them all, and this was something I expected from the fourth course of the dinners at Trois Mec. And that isn’t putting this dish down – the albacore tuna was perfectly cooked, with a nice sear and a raw middle, the tomato dashi was surprisingly developed, and the raw green tomato and the confit cherry tomato were nice compliments. And that mouse melon (looks like a thimble-sized watermelon, tastes like a gherkins) on the bottom left – so cute! Overall, this dish kind of had a chazuke effect to it.

Supplement: Truffle grilled cheese sandwich, campfire ice cream

Truffle grilled cheese sandwich, buttermilk sauce, campfire ice cream ($9 supplement)

Of course, I insta-accepted the option of adding the supplemental course. Technically acting as the cheese course, this (along with the fromage dishes served at ink.) was the most fun and creative way to approach the traditional course. What you had here was a truffle grilled cheese sandwich, not lacking any butter, served with a “campfire” ice cream (again, creative use of their wood-fire grill). Just an inspired way of combining sweet and savory flavors. And the buttermilk sauce was great to dip the sandwich in. DO NOT pass up the opportunity to add this dish, no matter how full you think you might be. Did I mention that it comes with its own wine pairing as well?

Mille-feuille, vanilla cream, berries

Mille-feuille, vanilla cream, berries

Mignardises

Mignardises

After all these creative dishes, executed with fine dining techniques and equipment, served with Asian-inspired flavors, we end the meal with a traditionally-prepared Napoleon? Well, why mess with something as delicious as a well-executed Napoleon dessert, with its flaky puff pastry and its vanilla custard cream? Forget about needing the cronut in LA – you’ll never forget a classic. It was served with slices of strawberry, a blueberry sauce, and a sugar-glazed, vanilla-infused raspberry. I’m so glad that I was able to try this before they possibly took it off for the next dessert in the rotation. The mignardises were a mini chocolate chip-olive cookie and a chocolate ganache topped with habanero salt, a sweet ending to a sweet meal.

1500+ words later, and I can safely come to the conclusion of this dinner at Trois Mec being my favorite meal of 2013 so far. In addition to all that’s been written about the food, every other aspect of the restaurant clicked as well. The decor and ambiance, while minimal, had the comforting and intimate effect of dining in someone’s kitchen. I especially love that open kitchen, and the close view from my counter seat – echoes my love of sitting at the counter at sushi restaurants. Short, funny story: a random French guy walked in expecting to order pizza, and one of the servers had to tell him that it wasn’t a pizza place. He then proceed to correct the grammar of the restaurant name.

Service was great as well – very casual, but everyone was extremely informative and courteous, and some courses were served by the chefs/cooks themselves. In no way did I get the impression that I was “lucky to be there” or “I didn’t know any better,” which were the sentiments shared by some of the Yelp reviews critical of the restaurant (god, Yelpers are dumb). I’m not especially knowledgeable about wines (thanks guys for describing them in detail), but each pairing proved to be effective, whether to balance the accompanying dish, or to accentuate it. And again, $49 for 6 generous pours, plus the extra pairing for the grilled cheese. I just might make it a habit of camping in front of my laptop every other Friday at 8am.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
French Hollywood $$$$ A

Trois Mec on Urbanspoon

Gorge


Photo credit: Gorge

Gorge
8917 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 657-6328
http://gorgela.com/

Unless you’re a mom and pop ethnic hole-in-the-wall located on the outskirts of LA County, it’s damn near impossible for a restaurant to slip under the radar, in a city full of culinary Indiana Joneses looking to be the first to unearth the next dining treasure. But that’s what Gorge has managed to accomplish, despite having a trio with impeccable resumes running things front and back, and being located in West Hollywood. LA Times has barely grazed it, LA Weekly has avoided it like a plague, and you’d be hard-pressed to find reports of it on most food blogs. Recently, someone was asking for info about Gorge on Chowhound (surely due to the lack of information I noted above), and I realized that I did the restaurant no favors by neglecting my very own post, especially when I enjoyed my visits there.

Upon first glance, Gorge appears to be your run-of-the-mill French bistro/brasserie. Old-fashioned French decor here, old-school French dishes there. Take a closer look at the menu, however, and you’d be surprised to find an extremely focused menu – one that does no favors for the ladies looking out for their figures in this part of town by specializing in cured and cased meats. It’s actually very old-school, right down to the all-natural preparations of said cured and cased meats. They mentioned how they wanted to “bring the classics back” into the spotlight. And yet, the concept of Gorge is actually very new, for LA hasn’t seen a French restaurant like this before.

On my first visit, I tried the mackerel tartine and the saucisson sec (charcuterie plate). The mackerel had a wonderfully fishy flavor, a welcome taste for one who likes briny foods, and the curing was strong, but not overpowering and salty. On the other hand, the curing for the cured meats was on the lighter side, presumably due to the all-natural process involved. It’s a labor-intensive and patient process, but the love is certainly evident- each slice of salumi glowed radiantly (probably because it’s fatty), and had a nice variety of salty, herb-y, and garlicky flavors across the board. But the MVP of the charcuterie team had to be the headcheese. Meaty, gelatinous, fatty, herb-y, it’s all there. And it still managed to not be heavy. Also, the pickled romanesco was an inspired choice to match.

On my second visit, I tried the chicken liver parfait and beer sausage. The chicken liver parfait was rather lean – imagine a refined version of the chicken liver pate your Jewish grandma would make. But getting it and the layer of fat that tops it together, and the lean pate transforms into a more creamy bite. The beer sausage was good and had a decent snap to it, and was elevated further by the accompanying fingerling potatoes and what I presume was the French equivalent of sauerkraut. Really a fine job by Chef Elia all-around (this is the same Elia as the one who appeared on Top Chef by the way – twice!)

As amazing as the savory items are, you’d be remiss to not order dessert at Gorge. There is only one type of dessert, the St. Honore (albeit in five varieties). According to Wikipedia, it is a “circle of puff pastry at its base with a ring of pâte à choux piped on the outer edge. After the base is baked small cream puffs are dipped in caramelized sugar and attached side by side on top of the circle of the pâte à choux. This base is traditionally filled with crème chiboust and finished with whipped cream using a special St. Honoré piping tip.” Long description, but puff pastry + creme + cream puff on top = awesomeness. The flavors rotate based on seasonality and Pastry Chef Uyen’s imagination, but the classic vanilla will always be there, and that’s where you should start. Sure, there’s only one dessert, but consider the St. Honore a combination of different French desserts in one Frankenstein package.

Another thing I have to mention is the amazing beverage program here, headed by sommelier Darius. I’m no expert on beer and wine, and Darius was more than helpful at describing the different types offered, and even has a beer AND wine pairing for EVERY dish on the menu- that’s dropping knowledge. He, along with Uyen (the two combine to work front of the house during dinner service), are very hospitable hosts…to few customers unfortunately. You can make a reservation, but it isn’t necessary at all. In fact, the most occupied I’ve seen the place during my visits is 6 people. I can certainly appreciate the me-time, but Gorge deserves better. For now, they seem content at serving return local diners, and ones who’ve heard and read rave acclaim from less mainstream sources (like myself). I just hope that they stick around long enough for word to spread further, because a quality restaurant in LA will not be forever neglected.

Mackerel Tartine
Mackerel Tartine ($18) – pictured is a half-order

Saucisson Sec
Saucisson Sec ($18)

Classic Vanilla St. Honore
Classic Vanilla St. Honore ($10)

2nd visit:

Chicken Liver Parfait
Chicken Liver Parfait ($10)

Beer Sausage
Beer Sausage ($20) – – pictured is a half-order

Caramel Apple St. Honore
Caramel Apple St. Honore ($10)

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
French West Hollywood $$$ A-

GORGE Charcuterie & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Canelé

1/20/12

Canelé
3219 Glendale Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(323) 666-7133
http://www.canele-la.com/

Brunch – It’s a strange weekend phenomenon in L.A., where the hip and beautiful rub elbows, while eating a combination of breakfast and lunch items at a designated time between the normal breakfast and lunch hours. As girly as it may sound, I personally love brunch, as far as the usual items served is concerned. But I neither want to wake up early enough nor brave the crowds just to eat a consolidation of two meals which I don’t eat on a regular basis during the weekends.

I decided to get off my lazy fat ass this past Sunday, however, to have brunch and catch up with a few of friends whom I haven’t seen in almost a year. Since one of them lives in Glendale, Canelé sounded like a good choice (among its many “honors” include being #1 on LA Weekly’s 10 Best Breakfast Spots). I arrived just before the restaurant opened at 10am, only to see that there were almost a couple of dozen like-minded diners waiting to enter as well. Had to wait a bit because one in our party was (very) late (FYI: they only seat full parties, since there’s no reservations), but upon being seated, the aroma from the open kitchen immediately hit me.

Our party of four split three entrees and two sides: French toast (to which we added the prunes and mascarpone), fried chicken sandwich, the lamb hash (daily special), house cured bacon, and baked pancake. The portion of French toast was huge – three giant battered toasts that were almost custard-y. The additional accompaniment of prunes and mascarpone really worked – I liked this better than with maple syrup. But I actually thought that the baked pancake (some of you might know it as a Dutch baby) with lemon custard (listed as a side, but was probably large enough to be considered an entree at many bougie brunch spots) was the sweet dish of note. The filling was sweet, but not overly so, and it was nice and fluffy. Just great.

Over on the savory side, there was the fried chicken sandwich. I’ve read great things about it, and it was satisfactory for the most part. But I was actually left wanting more fried chicken – felt like there was almost as much green tomato as chicken. The lamb hash, a special of the day, was very good. Egg was fried well, the potatoes were crisp, and the greens and onions went well with the slight gaminess from the bits of lamb. But again, the star here was actually a supporting actor – the house cured bacon. Cut thick, these strips were essentially fried pork belly. It wasn’t too well-done either – the lean part was just crispy enough, and the fatty portion basically melted in my mouth.

I really enjoyed my meal – enough to order a couple of the dishes for the roommates to try – a fairly tall order on my part. Overall, Canelé marks my tremendous return to the brunch scene (ha). On a more serious note, it’s a cute little neighborhood restaurant (gives off that bistro vibe for dinner), with a focused menu using farmer’s market ingredients. Not the cheapest of options, but the ingredients and cooking more than justify it. Plus, the portions were larger than expected (especially the French toast). I would not hesitate to wake up earlier and return on another weekend, as well as for dinner.

Baked Pancake w/ Meyer Lemon Custard
Baked Pancake w/ Meyer Lemon Custard ($6.50)

Lamb Hash
Lamb Hash (daily special – forgot $)

Thick French Toast
Thick French Toast w/ Poached Prunes & Mascarpone ($11.50 + 3.50)

House Cured Bacon
House Cured Bacon ($7.50)

Fried Chicken Sandwich
Fried Chicken Sandwich ($14.50)

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
French, American, Breakfast & Brunch Atwater Village $$$ B+

Canelé on Urbanspoon

Crepes Bonaparte

I’m usually not a food truck guy, despite seeing multiple ones near my work on a weekly basis (I think bebe, which is located a block from us, arranges for the trucks to come). I prefer to go home for lunch to save money and not get any fatter than I already am. But I had to run errands during my lunch last Wednesday, and was really hungry upon going back to work. Luckily, Crepes Bonaparte was readily available a block away. My coworkers said that they were on Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, so that was encouraging.

Baby Bleu – chicken, bleu cheese, spinach & raspberry vinaigrette

I had wanted a savory and a sweet crepe to have a nice balance of crepes (albeit all to myself). Not too familiar with savory crepes, I asked the server what his favorite savory one was, and he suggested the baby bleu. It was a nice crepe, although it didn’t really change my indifferent perception of savory crepes.

Le Classique – banana, nutella & whipped cream

Now this is what I’m talking about. Banana + nutella + whipped cream = epic combination. Actually this didn’t blow me away, but it was very delicious. Delicious enough that I forgot to take a photo of it.

My food truck experiences have been fairly limited, and I believe that the abundance of such trucks have diluted the scene in Los Angeles. However, I don’t think that Crepes Bonaparte has been a detriment to the crowd. Again, nothing mind-blowing, but just solid crepes.

Chris Hei grade: B-

Crepes Bonaparte/GASTON the Crepe Truck